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28 Mar, 2024 14:03

Indian court extends custody of top politician 

Delhi chief minister Arvind KejriwaI was arrested last week over corruption charges in an alleged liquor scam 
Indian court extends custody of top politician 

An Indian district court on Thursday extended the custody of Arvind Kejriwal, acting chief minister of Delhi and founder of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), until April 1. The Enforcement Directorate (ED), a federal law enforcement agency under the Finance Ministry, arrested the politician last week and had sought a seven-day extension of custody. 

“This is a political conspiracy,” Kejriwal said following the court order. “The public will give an answer to this.” He was arrested on corruption charges related to an alleged scam orchestrated as part of the Delhi government’s now-scrapped liquor policy. The agency has accused Kejriwal of demanding 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in kickbacks from liquor traders in exchange for favors.  

Also on Thursday, the Delhi High Court rejected a public interest litigation (PIL) petition to remove Kejriwal from the post of chief minister of the national capital region following his arrest. Delhi has the special status of a union territory under the constitution and an elected legislative assembly. 

Against the backdrop of Kejriwal’s arrest, AAP leader and Delhi minister Saurabh Bharadwaj claimed that “numerous” members of the state legislative assembly in Delhi and Punjab, which is also governed by the party, had been offered financial incentives to “defect and align” with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This allegedly included promises of party positions and “Y+ security” (an extra level of police protection).  

Bharadwaj has accused the BJP of “poaching” leaders at a crucial time ahead of national elections. Last month, Kejriwal also accused the BJP of attempting to lure senior party figures by offering 250 million ($3 million). On Wednesday, Sushil Rinku, the APP’s only member in the parliament’s lower house (Lok Sabha), joined the BJP along with a member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from Punjab, Sheetal Angural.  

Ahead of Kejriwal’s arrest, BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra claimed that the Delhi chief minister had ignored “approximately” nine summonses over six months, accusing him of “disrespecting” the constitution.  

The opposition has questioned the timing of Kejriwal’s arrest days ahead of the start of India’s next general election. Kejriwal’s AAP is one of the key members of the National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), an opposition group that seeks to challenge the ruling BJP.  

Meanwhile, Germany and the US have criticized Kejriwal’s arrest, prompting New Delhi to issue notes of protest and summon diplomats. “Any such external imputation on our electoral and legal processes is completely unacceptable. In India, legal processes are driven only by the rule of law. Anyone who has similar ethos, especially fellow democracies, should have no difficulty in appreciating this fact,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said during a media briefing on Thursday.

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